Why You Might Want to Avoid Sparkly Makeup

by Tori Telfer

Mica, the glittery mineral that's found in bronzers, foundations, blushes, eyeshadows, is prized for its ability to give your skin a beautiful, lit-from-within glow. But all that shimmer may have an ugly face. A company that prides themselves on their eco-friendly and ethical practices, LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics has decided to replace all mica in their products with a synthetic alternative. Why? It can't guarantee that the mica it sources from Indian mines doesn't involve child labor.

Sixty percent of the world's mica comes from India, but much of that exportation is done illegally. Australian newspaper The Age reports that India "officially" produces about 15,000 tons of mica a year, but exported more than 130,000 tons in 2011-12. And where there are illegal mica mines, there are child workers. (The Age talked to one, a terrified 12-year-old named Salim, who has been mining for a year.)

In the past, LUSH tried to ensure that their mica was ethically-sourced, but their system was based on trust: They simply asked their suppliers to declare, on a certificate, that their mica production was done without forced labor involved. Obviously, that's an easy statement to fake. And though auditing may provide some sort of solution — L'Oreal's mica supplier in India does monthly mine checks — evidence of child labor can be hidden (or ignored) during audits.

When The Guardian contacted LUSH for comment on a story about mica mining, the founders were shocked to hear about the stats that The Age turned up. Co-founder Rowena Bird said the issue was "appalling," and the company decided to discontinue their use of mica completely, since they can't be sure that no child labor is involved. The plan is to switch over to a synthetic sparkle, though ideally, they (and the rest of the industry) will eventually be able to find a source of ethically mined mica.

With LUSH taking such a firm stance against unethical mica, hopefully other makeup brands will follow their lead. And as for you? Watch out for mineral makeup, which is frequently made with mica, and double-check the ingredients on anything — paint, lipstick, nail polish, even toothpaste — that sparkles.